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Faculty seeks to increase diversity

| Tuesday, April 26, 2016

1461634659-6be04a9b9b088b5Eric Richelsen

For Pamela Nolan Young, Notre Dame’s new director of academic diversity and inclusion, cultivating a diverse faculty is essential for any university.

“There are lots of scholarly articles and research that point to the benefit of having a diverse faculty and student body — and staff, I would include professional staff in that as well,” Young said. “And some of them are very obvious. When you have different perspectives addressing the same issue, you have more enriched conversations. When you have different perspectives addressing scientific research, you approach that research differently. You’re able to be more creative and think about some of the solutions that you might propose.”

In her role in the provost’s office, Young said four components — recruitment, retention, development and communication — work to increase faculty diversity.

Jason Ruiz, an associate professor of American studies, said faculty diversity plays a central role in providing a well-rounded education.

“I think our job as a University is to expose students to the diversity of the human experience across the disciplines,” Ruiz said. “In order to do that, you need a diverse faculty.”

According to the most recent statistics from Notre Dame’s office of Institutional Research, as of 2011, U.S. minorities comprised 15 percent of Notre Dame’s faculty. This figure places the University 4.2 percent below the median for Association of American Universities (AAU) institutions. According to statistics from the National Center for Education Statistics, as of 2013, 21 percent of all full-time higher education faculty members were black, Hispanic or Asian/Pacific Islander.

Despite the University’s relative lack of faculty diversity, professor of political science Darren Davis said the issue is not unique to Notre Dame.

“I think the most important thing is for people to understand that although the numbers are low, these things are not unique to Notre Dame,” Davis said. “Other schools are in similar situations, and because of that, I don’t think there’s anything to be ashamed of. Because, relatively speaking, every other university is in the same situation. … So it’s an issue, but it’s not endemic to the culture at Notre Dame.

“… It’s no different from many other universities,” Davis said. “There’s not anything unique to Notre Dame that makes it inhospitable to minority candidates.”

Young, who has held similar diversity and inclusion positions at Smith College, North Shore Community College and in the private sector, said all colleges and universities grapple with similar issues.

“Diversity and inclusion is difficult for every higher education institution,” she said. “Even those institutions that feel like they’re doing very well or feel that it’s very easy for them to attract top talent — so Harvard or Stanford or the University of Chicago — are all striving to do better.”

Several factors present barriers to Notre Dame building a more diverse faculty, Davis said.

“The first reason is that there are not many [minority] Ph.D.s to begin with,” he said. “So, if you look at the various disciplines, you don’t normally see a lot of minorities with Ph.D.s who are also interested in going into academia.”

Ruiz said the overall lack of minority representation in higher education is a historical problem.

“It’s definitely a product of history, including the ways in which institutions of higher education excluded non-white people for the vast majority of their histories,” he said. “Things have changed dramatically for undergraduate students and admission and recruitment, but, at the graduate level, we still see tremendous disparities in a variety of fields.”

Davis also said Notre Dame’s high academic standing places it in a competitive market for all faculty, including minorities.

“Many schools like a Notre Dame are interested in hiring people who will be successful, academics who will be successful,” he said. “So that means there are many other universities and colleges like Notre Dame who are competing for those candidates as well.”

Ruiz said Notre Dame’s physical location may also prevent some minority faculty members from coming here.

“I think one of the problems I hear again and again about Notre Dame when we’re hiring is location,” he said. “There’s a sense that South Bend is going to be a difficult sell for super strong minority faculty members who have opportunities to work in big cities, on the coasts.”

These barriers, and more, may make it seem as if Notre Dame is in a bleak situation for faculty diversity, professor of political science and Africana studies Diane Pinderhughes said.

“It’s hard to have confidence,” Pinderhughes said. “There’s more communication about the University’s commitment to diversity in the past year or so. … But when I think around the campus about the numbers and the progress [minority] people are making through the tenure ranks and the numbers of people and the fact that there’s not consistently a range of full professors or professors with chairs in the University, this is a problem. There are also very few African Americans in higher administrative levels.”

Still, Ruiz said Notre Dame fosters faculty diversity in some fields, while others need more attention.

“For Latinos, Notre Dame is considered a great place,” he said. “We have a relatively strong number of Latino faculty members and faculty members who do Latino studies. I think other ethnic studies are more obviously underrepresented among the faculty, especially African American faculty members and anyone interested in doing Asian American studies and American Indian studies.”

In order to increase faculty diversity, Ruiz said he would advocate for “cluster hiring.”

“My number one thing I think Notre Dame could do to increase faculty diversity would be to engage in cluster hiring,” he said. “I’ve seen other schools have tremendous success in hiring not one faculty member who does Asian American Studies, but hire seven across a wide array of disciplines, so a psychologist, an American studies person, a sociologist and a historian, all of whom are interested in the Asian American experience.”

Ruiz said this practice would immediately impact recruitment, but also aid in retention efforts for minority faculty members.

“I think the philosophy of the cluster hire is that people come in as cohorts who have similar backgrounds and are interested in similar intellectual questions and, therefore, feel more grounded here,” he said. “Because one thing that’s really hard as a faculty member is to be the only person on a campus from your background and to be the only person who does that type of work. You’re alone. You’re a lone wolf. It’s hard to see yourself represented here when you’re one of one. I think cluster hiring is the number one thing that could have immediate and dramatic impact on faculty diversity.”

Davis said in order to generate a more diverse faculty, Notre Dame should emphasize its unique aspects, including its Catholic identity.

“Our unique Catholic identity is and should be highly attractive,” Davis said. “Our focus on social justice, Catholic social teaching and being an inclusive community should be attractive — particularly attractive to minority candidates, not just Catholics, but across the board. That is something that intrigued me and convinced me to come here.”

Highlighting these attributes that separate Notre Dame from peer institutions would help the University succeed in the competitive faculty market, Davis said.

“The way that I see Notre Dame is we’re in a competitive market for the best faculty we can get,” he said.“Everyone is after them — everyone. And we have to figure out what we do better than other similarly situated universities.

“Notre Dame is not the only with resources. Notre Dame is not the only place with a long sports tradition. Notre Dame is not the only place where you can go and have good colleagues. So we have to think about, in my opinion, what separates us from aspirational peers who are similarly situated economically and intellectually.”

And while Young, who began her job earlier this month, said her brief time in the new position has prevented her from fully formulating recruitment and retention strategies, more effective communication will advance the mission of increasing faculty diversity.

“When I interviewed for the job, someone said to me that the University tends to be very modest and that they’re not in the habit of advertising and boasting about their activities,” she said. “And this is an area where to attract top talent, they have to know and see that there is a commitment and that you’re already involved in doing the work. And so it requires a very public presence about your deliberate actions, and I think that’s one think I’ll try to encourage the University to do differently — to make known what’s currently happening on campus more prominent.”

Ultimately, Young said, increasing faculty diversity will benefit all members of the Notre Dame community.

“Oftentimes, individuals think about diversity and inclusion as an aside or an add-on,” she said. “The practices and changes that will come about based on my work, if they come into fruition, will help every faculty member on campus.”

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About Jack Rooney

Jack is a 2016 graduate of Notre Dame, and The Observer's former managing editor. He is currently spending a year living and working for the University in Ireland, and writing columns to keep him busy. For more random thoughts and plenty of news links, follow Jack on Twitter @RooneyReports.

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